PORT RICHEY — The burglary suspect told deputies he once sought out a home because the lights were on inside — the better to find his loot. He crept into bedrooms to snatch wallets and purses beside sleeping strangers.
Deputies say he did this, or tried to, at least 29 times.
The burglaries started in February and quickly revealed an M.O., said Pasco sheriff's Detective Jennifer Zoccoli: Always at night, in the latter half of the month, the burglar went through unlocked doors and usually went for credit cards and cellphones. The cards were used at gas stations, then thrown away.
Detectives entered the information, enough to fill a binder as thick as a shoebox, into databases. More patterns emerged. Dots denoting the burglaries congregated in a circle with a 1.5-mile radius on a map of the Embassy Hills subdivision. From an aerial view, the "cat burglar," as detectives referred to him, was painting his own crosshairs.
Deputies canvassed the neighborhood, looking for information and telling residents about the burglaries. By night, they surrounded the subdivision.
On July 20, Deputy Darold Cook saw him near a house in the neighborhood and chased the burglar but lost him. Detectives got boot prints and a composite sketch from Cook. They took the sketch door to door.
Neighbors led them to 7814 Chalafonte Drive, where Shawn William Culver lived.
Culver's name had never come up in the area's previous criminal reports during the investigation. But one detective recognized him.
In the late '80s, Sgt. William Lawless investigated a string of similar burglaries in the Holiday Lake Estates subdivision. The suspect slipped through unlocked sliding glass doors to steal. He confessed after he was arrested and charged with burglary in 1992.
Culver had been taken in by his grandmother to raise and assumed her last name, Blaskey. Detectives realized they were looking for the same person when they ran information in the database and came up with the old alias.
"Once I realized it was Blaskey," Lawless said, "we pretty much knew we were on the right track."
Inside his house, they found stolen loot and masks made from shirt sleeves Culver was seen wearing in home surveillance tapes.
Culver told deputies that he committed five burglaries the same way: He would steal purses, throw them away a few houses down and try to immediately use the cards he had found. Then he would get rid of the debit or credit cards — but not before spending $4,000.
He said he committed burglaries after he ran out of gas money. Almost all the crimes were committed after the middle of each month, according to reports.
Culver was initially arrested on four counts of burglary of an occupied dwelling and a single count each of attempted burglary of an occupied dwelling, obstructing an officer without violence and prowling. The charge count is now around 30, but detectives are still pursuing leads after finding stolen items from 2012 burglaries in the home.
Since the arrest, Zoccoli said, similar burglaries have stopped.
Contact Alex Orlando at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.